Hypothetical Conversation on Inspiration and Discernment
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01-10-2013, 02:32 PM
Hypothetical Conversation on Inspiration and Discernment
I was pondering WLC's self-authenticating witness of the holy spirit argument.



It kicks off around 0:35

For the faint of heart: The whole thing is utter crap (though what he says later in the video about regularly taking questions off the shelf and examining them is kinda decent). This is what we expect from Craig: Crap bundled up in the wrapping paper of pseudological intellectualism so that we don't recognize it's crap, and then we're told it's holy but not to unwrap it. But the foundational idea is, the Holy Spirit has told me this is true, and because there's a Holy Spirit to tell me it's true, it is therefore true. ... which of course begs the question of whether that "inspiration" is actually arriving from a holy spirit, but Craig's not intellectually honest enough to even admit that's a question, much less examine it. Then he goes on to tell Christians not to present this as an argument because it's supposed to be a last line of defense rather than a good offense and therefore it needs to be kept out of the light of skeptical scrutiny. (My presentation of his motives, not his.)

Let's unwrap it. I know, it's stinky and gross inside, but someone's got to.

One of the common (though not universal) notions in theistic Christianity is the idea of receiving messages from the holy spirit, aka inspiration. These supposedly arrive as thoughts, emotions, or impulses, and some doctrines (again, not universal) hold that inspiration is so potent as to be unmistakeable for anything else.

It is a mistake to describe this whole process as supernatural. A significant part of this process -- the emotion, impulse, or thought being labeled inspiration -- is actually part of the naturalistic world. That means that empricism can be APPLIED to part of it. It's actually the old worn "here's something in the natural world, btw the supernatural caused it" schtick, and it can be torn to shreds under full scrutiny, just like they always with "God did it" garbage. The key is not to be afraid of applying that scrutiny. Simply tease out the naturalistic elements and look for alternate explanations for them.

Here. Let's play out a conversation.

Christian: "I know God is real, because He speaks to me."
What the skeptic shouldn't say: "No He doesn't."
What the skeptic should say: "Really? How do you experience this?"
Christian: "Sometimes it's a feeling, or an impulse, or words in my head. Often it happens when I'm praying, but sometimes when I'm not. Sometimes it's just the sense that I'm loved by something bigger and greater than me."
Skeptic: "How does one recognize when it's coming from God? Let's say I get an impulse to, I don't know, turn left instead of right while strolling through the mall. How do I know it came from God? How can I discern whether the impulse is mine or if it comes from outside of me?"

In my mind, this is the CRITICAL strategy in dealing with Craig's "Self-affirming witness of the holy spirit" argument: Dividing the naturalistic element (impulse, emotion, or thought) from the supernatural explanation (God did it). Challenge the linkage. Present alternative explanations. They don't even have to be falsifiable alternative explanations, not if they serve to underscore the dangers of their unfalsifiable explanation.

Continuing the example:
Christian: "Well, there's a feeling that comes with it. Sometimes it's a feeling of peace."
Skeptic: "So I can recognize it by a feeling of peace? Are all feelings of peace a sign of inspiration? If not, how can I recognize which are and which aren't?"
Christian: "Inspiration is so powerful that it can't be mistaken for anything else."
Skeptic: "But even if that were so, that only deals with the false negative, doesn't it? Even if we can't mistake inspiration for something else, that doesn't prevent us from mistaking something else for inspiration, does it? I mean, look, let's say I'm Peter Sutcliffe. I'm getting the impulse to kill someone. I've got vague notions that they're in league with the devil or something."
Christian: "Well God would never tell us to murder."
Skeptic: "So am I supposed to vet this possible inspiration against knowledge? There's some sort of list of red flags that tell us it's not inspiration, and you go down this list every time you think you've been inspired to make sure it really is inspiration?"
Christian: "Well, no..."
Skeptic: "Or let's say I'm the Biblical Abraham and I've got this idea that God wants me to kill my son. It's a pretty strong idea. How do I know it came from God, rather than, say, the kid mouthing off to me?"
Christian: "Well the Bible TELLS us it came from God."
Skeptic: "But how could Abraham have known the difference? It wasn't written in the Bible when he was facing that question, was it? How could he have known it was the holy spirit? How could I know that it wasn't, say, the devil tempting me with an evil impulse and then trying to trick me into thinking it's from God? Or my own pride ascribing my personal, human desires with those of God? Wouldn't I be OBLIGATED to question it, just to keep from falling into these traps? And if inspiration is unmistakeable, wouldn't that be more reason to try to question it? Wouldn't how it holds up under intense skepticism be proof that it's inspiration? Is that how you tell that it's inspiration, by doubting it as intensely as you can?"
Christian: "Well, that's not how I do it, no..."
Skeptic: "How can I tell the difference between some thought, impulse, or emotion that's MINE, rather than that comes from God? For that matter, how do you do it?"
Christian: "Well, praying. That's how you tell the difference."
Skeptic: "And you always get inspiration while praying? You always get an answer to your question, and it's always the right answer?"
Christian: "Look, inspiration is REAL, okay? I accept that as an article of faith, even if you don't."
Skeptic: "Even if I were to accept it, how do I go from "inspiration happens now and then" to "inspiriation is happening here with this particular thought and not there with that specific emotion"? How do you discern between inspiration and, say, personal pride or diabolic temptation?"

And here is where it falls apart, because there IS no good answer, and there needs to be. Everything hinges on that. The inspired Bible hinges on it, the personal relationship with God hinges on it, the self-affirming witness crap hinges on it, the moral argument hinges on it, EVERYTHING falls apart under a genuine attempt to discern truth from fiction, actual cause from assumed cause. And it all falls apart with the default questions of empirical skepticism. WLC is right, from his side of things, to make this the last refuge and hidden bulwark of his faith. It must be the last refuge, because if anyone gets at it it's game over. It must be hidden, because if it can be seen clearly it can be easily disassembled.

(Yes, I admit that this is a strawman, but I'm kinda unable to present the Christian side accurately, because I just can't figure out how to wrap my brain around that mindset.)
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01-10-2013, 02:48 PM
RE: Hypothetical Conversation on Inspiration and Discernment
(01-10-2013 02:32 PM)Reltzik Wrote:  I was pondering WLC's self-authenticating witness of the holy spirit argument.



It kicks off around 0:35

For the faint of heart: The whole thing is utter crap (though what he says later in the video about regularly taking questions off the shelf and examining them is kinda decent). This is what we expect from Craig: Crap bundled up in the wrapping paper of pseudological intellectualism so that we don't recognize it's crap, and then we're told it's holy but not to unwrap it. But the foundational idea is, the Holy Spirit has told me this is true, and because there's a Holy Spirit to tell me it's true, it is therefore true. ... which of course begs the question of whether that "inspiration" is actually arriving from a holy spirit, but Craig's not intellectually honest enough to even admit that's a question, much less examine it. Then he goes on to tell Christians not to present this as an argument because it's supposed to be a last line of defense rather than a good offense and therefore it needs to be kept out of the light of skeptical scrutiny. (My presentation of his motives, not his.)

Let's unwrap it. I know, it's stinky and gross inside, but someone's got to.

One of the common (though not universal) notions in theistic Christianity is the idea of receiving messages from the holy spirit, aka inspiration. These supposedly arrive as thoughts, emotions, or impulses, and some doctrines (again, not universal) hold that inspiration is so potent as to be unmistakeable for anything else.

It is a mistake to describe this whole process as supernatural. A significant part of this process -- the emotion, impulse, or thought being labeled inspiration -- is actually part of the naturalistic world. That means that empricism can be APPLIED to part of it. It's actually the old worn "here's something in the natural world, btw the supernatural caused it" schtick, and it can be torn to shreds under full scrutiny, just like they always with "God did it" garbage. The key is not to be afraid of applying that scrutiny. Simply tease out the naturalistic elements and look for alternate explanations for them.

Here. Let's play out a conversation.

Christian: "I know God is real, because He speaks to me."
What the skeptic shouldn't say: "No He doesn't."
What the skeptic should say: "Really? How do you experience this?"
Christian: "Sometimes it's a feeling, or an impulse, or words in my head. Often it happens when I'm praying, but sometimes when I'm not. Sometimes it's just the sense that I'm loved by something bigger and greater than me."
Skeptic: "How does one recognize when it's coming from God? Let's say I get an impulse to, I don't know, turn left instead of right while strolling through the mall. How do I know it came from God? How can I discern whether the impulse is mine or if it comes from outside of me?"

In my mind, this is the CRITICAL strategy in dealing with Craig's "Self-affirming witness of the holy spirit" argument: Dividing the naturalistic element (impulse, emotion, or thought) from the supernatural explanation (God did it). Challenge the linkage. Present alternative explanations. They don't even have to be falsifiable alternative explanations, not if they serve to underscore the dangers of their unfalsifiable explanation.

Continuing the example:
Christian: "Well, there's a feeling that comes with it. Sometimes it's a feeling of peace."
Skeptic: "So I can recognize it by a feeling of peace? Are all feelings of peace a sign of inspiration? If not, how can I recognize which are and which aren't?"
Christian: "Inspiration is so powerful that it can't be mistaken for anything else."
Skeptic: "But even if that were so, that only deals with the false negative, doesn't it? Even if we can't mistake inspiration for something else, that doesn't prevent us from mistaking something else for inspiration, does it? I mean, look, let's say I'm Peter Sutcliffe. I'm getting the impulse to kill someone. I've got vague notions that they're in league with the devil or something."
Christian: "Well God would never tell us to murder."
Skeptic: "So am I supposed to vet this possible inspiration against knowledge? There's some sort of list of red flags that tell us it's not inspiration, and you go down this list every time you think you've been inspired to make sure it really is inspiration?"
Christian: "Well, no..."
Skeptic: "Or let's say I'm the Biblical Abraham and I've got this idea that God wants me to kill my son. It's a pretty strong idea. How do I know it came from God, rather than, say, the kid mouthing off to me?"
Christian: "Well the Bible TELLS us it came from God."
Skeptic: "But how could Abraham have known the difference? It wasn't written in the Bible when he was facing that question, was it? How could he have known it was the holy spirit? How could I know that it wasn't, say, the devil tempting me with an evil impulse and then trying to trick me into thinking it's from God? Or my own pride ascribing my personal, human desires with those of God? Wouldn't I be OBLIGATED to question it, just to keep from falling into these traps? And if inspiration is unmistakeable, wouldn't that be more reason to try to question it? Wouldn't how it holds up under intense skepticism be proof that it's inspiration? Is that how you tell that it's inspiration, by doubting it as intensely as you can?"
Christian: "Well, that's not how I do it, no..."
Skeptic: "How can I tell the difference between some thought, impulse, or emotion that's MINE, rather than that comes from God? For that matter, how do you do it?"
Christian: "Well, praying. That's how you tell the difference."
Skeptic: "And you always get inspiration while praying? You always get an answer to your question, and it's always the right answer?"
Christian: "Look, inspiration is REAL, okay? I accept that as an article of faith, even if you don't."
Skeptic: "Even if I were to accept it, how do I go from "inspiration happens now and then" to "inspiriation is happening here with this particular thought and not there with that specific emotion"? How do you discern between inspiration and, say, personal pride or diabolic temptation?"

And here is where it falls apart, because there IS no good answer, and there needs to be. Everything hinges on that. The inspired Bible hinges on it, the personal relationship with God hinges on it, the self-affirming witness crap hinges on it, the moral argument hinges on it, EVERYTHING falls apart under a genuine attempt to discern truth from fiction, actual cause from assumed cause. And it all falls apart with the default questions of empirical skepticism. WLC is right, from his side of things, to make this the last refuge and hidden bulwark of his faith. It must be the last refuge, because if anyone gets at it it's game over. It must be hidden, because if it can be seen clearly it can be easily disassembled.

(Yes, I admit that this is a strawman, but I'm kinda unable to present the Christian side accurately, because I just can't figure out how to wrap my brain around that mindset.)

Actually, I think you've made a good argument here. One of the things I teach others in the church is to use discernment when "receiving" not just a feeling or message but anything at all that is communicated. It must be in accordance with the scriptures if it's from god in my worldview:

If a Christian says, "God told me to move to Jerusalem to preach" it would be difficult to think of a refutation from the scriptures. Maybe that's good stuff.

If a Christian says, "God told me to quit my job, with which I was supporting my spouse and children, and leave my spouse and children and go to Jerusalem and preach" I'd remind them that the Word says:

"Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever." - 1 Timothy 5:8

I can give specific, real world examples if that helps. I agree that "feelings" aren't enough--the Mormons stress feelings in their proselytization. But don't throw feelings out per se--I believe that truth, like god, can be felt as well as discovered by ratiocination.
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01-10-2013, 04:19 PM (This post was last modified: 01-10-2013 04:49 PM by Reltzik.)
RE: Hypothetical Conversation on Inspiration and Discernment
(01-10-2013 02:48 PM)PleaseJesus Wrote:  
(01-10-2013 02:32 PM)Reltzik Wrote:  I was pondering WLC's self-authenticating witness of the holy spirit argument.



It kicks off around 0:35

For the faint of heart: The whole thing is utter crap (though what he says later in the video about regularly taking questions off the shelf and examining them is kinda decent). This is what we expect from Craig: Crap bundled up in the wrapping paper of pseudological intellectualism so that we don't recognize it's crap, and then we're told it's holy but not to unwrap it. But the foundational idea is, the Holy Spirit has told me this is true, and because there's a Holy Spirit to tell me it's true, it is therefore true. ... which of course begs the question of whether that "inspiration" is actually arriving from a holy spirit, but Craig's not intellectually honest enough to even admit that's a question, much less examine it. Then he goes on to tell Christians not to present this as an argument because it's supposed to be a last line of defense rather than a good offense and therefore it needs to be kept out of the light of skeptical scrutiny. (My presentation of his motives, not his.)

Let's unwrap it. I know, it's stinky and gross inside, but someone's got to.

One of the common (though not universal) notions in theistic Christianity is the idea of receiving messages from the holy spirit, aka inspiration. These supposedly arrive as thoughts, emotions, or impulses, and some doctrines (again, not universal) hold that inspiration is so potent as to be unmistakeable for anything else.

It is a mistake to describe this whole process as supernatural. A significant part of this process -- the emotion, impulse, or thought being labeled inspiration -- is actually part of the naturalistic world. That means that empricism can be APPLIED to part of it. It's actually the old worn "here's something in the natural world, btw the supernatural caused it" schtick, and it can be torn to shreds under full scrutiny, just like they always with "God did it" garbage. The key is not to be afraid of applying that scrutiny. Simply tease out the naturalistic elements and look for alternate explanations for them.

Here. Let's play out a conversation.

Christian: "I know God is real, because He speaks to me."
What the skeptic shouldn't say: "No He doesn't."
What the skeptic should say: "Really? How do you experience this?"
Christian: "Sometimes it's a feeling, or an impulse, or words in my head. Often it happens when I'm praying, but sometimes when I'm not. Sometimes it's just the sense that I'm loved by something bigger and greater than me."
Skeptic: "How does one recognize when it's coming from God? Let's say I get an impulse to, I don't know, turn left instead of right while strolling through the mall. How do I know it came from God? How can I discern whether the impulse is mine or if it comes from outside of me?"

In my mind, this is the CRITICAL strategy in dealing with Craig's "Self-affirming witness of the holy spirit" argument: Dividing the naturalistic element (impulse, emotion, or thought) from the supernatural explanation (God did it). Challenge the linkage. Present alternative explanations. They don't even have to be falsifiable alternative explanations, not if they serve to underscore the dangers of their unfalsifiable explanation.

Continuing the example:
Christian: "Well, there's a feeling that comes with it. Sometimes it's a feeling of peace."
Skeptic: "So I can recognize it by a feeling of peace? Are all feelings of peace a sign of inspiration? If not, how can I recognize which are and which aren't?"
Christian: "Inspiration is so powerful that it can't be mistaken for anything else."
Skeptic: "But even if that were so, that only deals with the false negative, doesn't it? Even if we can't mistake inspiration for something else, that doesn't prevent us from mistaking something else for inspiration, does it? I mean, look, let's say I'm Peter Sutcliffe. I'm getting the impulse to kill someone. I've got vague notions that they're in league with the devil or something."
Christian: "Well God would never tell us to murder."
Skeptic: "So am I supposed to vet this possible inspiration against knowledge? There's some sort of list of red flags that tell us it's not inspiration, and you go down this list every time you think you've been inspired to make sure it really is inspiration?"
Christian: "Well, no..."
Skeptic: "Or let's say I'm the Biblical Abraham and I've got this idea that God wants me to kill my son. It's a pretty strong idea. How do I know it came from God, rather than, say, the kid mouthing off to me?"
Christian: "Well the Bible TELLS us it came from God."
Skeptic: "But how could Abraham have known the difference? It wasn't written in the Bible when he was facing that question, was it? How could he have known it was the holy spirit? How could I know that it wasn't, say, the devil tempting me with an evil impulse and then trying to trick me into thinking it's from God? Or my own pride ascribing my personal, human desires with those of God? Wouldn't I be OBLIGATED to question it, just to keep from falling into these traps? And if inspiration is unmistakeable, wouldn't that be more reason to try to question it? Wouldn't how it holds up under intense skepticism be proof that it's inspiration? Is that how you tell that it's inspiration, by doubting it as intensely as you can?"
Christian: "Well, that's not how I do it, no..."
Skeptic: "How can I tell the difference between some thought, impulse, or emotion that's MINE, rather than that comes from God? For that matter, how do you do it?"
Christian: "Well, praying. That's how you tell the difference."
Skeptic: "And you always get inspiration while praying? You always get an answer to your question, and it's always the right answer?"
Christian: "Look, inspiration is REAL, okay? I accept that as an article of faith, even if you don't."
Skeptic: "Even if I were to accept it, how do I go from "inspiration happens now and then" to "inspiriation is happening here with this particular thought and not there with that specific emotion"? How do you discern between inspiration and, say, personal pride or diabolic temptation?"

And here is where it falls apart, because there IS no good answer, and there needs to be. Everything hinges on that. The inspired Bible hinges on it, the personal relationship with God hinges on it, the self-affirming witness crap hinges on it, the moral argument hinges on it, EVERYTHING falls apart under a genuine attempt to discern truth from fiction, actual cause from assumed cause. And it all falls apart with the default questions of empirical skepticism. WLC is right, from his side of things, to make this the last refuge and hidden bulwark of his faith. It must be the last refuge, because if anyone gets at it it's game over. It must be hidden, because if it can be seen clearly it can be easily disassembled.

(Yes, I admit that this is a strawman, but I'm kinda unable to present the Christian side accurately, because I just can't figure out how to wrap my brain around that mindset.)

Actually, I think you've made a good argument here. One of the things I teach others in the church is to use discernment when "receiving" not just a feeling or message but anything at all that is communicated. It must be in accordance with the scriptures if it's from god in my worldview:

If a Christian says, "God told me to move to Jerusalem to preach" it would be difficult to think of a refutation from the scriptures. Maybe that's good stuff.

If a Christian says, "God told me to quit my job, with which I was supporting my spouse and children, and leave my spouse and children and go to Jerusalem and preach" I'd remind them that the Word says:

"Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever." - 1 Timothy 5:8

I can give specific, real world examples if that helps. I agree that "feelings" aren't enough--the Mormons stress feelings in their proselytization. But don't throw feelings out per se--I believe that truth, like god, can be felt as well as discovered by ratiocination.

I'd counter this response with four lines of questioning.

First, suppose we were in the example of having an impulse to move to Jerusalem to preach, and suppose there wasn't any great injunction in the Bible for or against it. Maybe a 20-year-old without dependents, in circumstances where scripture neither prescribes nor proscribes nor strongly suggests. Does that not still leave the question of discernment? What use is a compass that points in no direction? What is the value of inspiration if we cannot discern it?

Second, suppose that scripture clearly tells us that we should do this and not do that. Why, then, the need for inspiration? What is its value in this case?

Third, what if our reading of scripture is contradictory? Let's say we're getting an impulse to grab some automatic rifles and grenades and crash the local Wiccan group. Some part of us thinks this might be divinely inspired, and some other part of us thinks it might be time to check into a mental institute. We grab King James off the shelf and look for an answer. We read, "Thou shalt not kill" in Exodus 20:13. And then we read "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live" in Exodus 22:18. That would be... what, on the facing page? Just two pages on? Now the compass is pointing in two opposite directions. How do we discern? Even if we maintain that scripture is never self-contradictory, the APPEARANCE of self-contradiction, the inability to read the compass, is in itself enough to render it useless for this task.

Fourth, why should the scriptures be trusted for confirmation? How do we know they have that authority? Were they themselves inspired? Their compilation, where certain documents were included in the Bible and certain documents excluded, were those editorial decisions inspired? John's vision or dream or hallucination or whatever, that turned into Revelation, how was it that came to be recorded as scripture instead of just dismissed as insane rantings? How was THAT inspiration recognized as inspiration rather than just a really funky dream? If there was a way to discern inspiration then, should we not be applying that method now? And if there was no means of identifying scripture as inspired, how do we know that scripture was inspired? And if it were not, would that not subjugate it to our own direct inspiration, if this were direct inspiration that we were experiencing? Would not the direct instructions of God carry more weight than our reading of the uninspired Bible? If so, how could we use scripture to dismiss something as inspiration, when instead it might be inspiration that should be used to dismiss scripture?
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04-10-2013, 01:46 PM
RE: Hypothetical Conversation on Inspiration and Discernment
Ebenezer Scrooge said it best in 'A Christmas Carol'...

Marley: Why do you doubt your senses?

Scrooge: Because a little thing affects them. A slight disorder of the stomach makes them cheats. You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato. There's more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!

Stick that in yer holy spirit and smoke it...

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05-10-2013, 01:09 PM
RE: Hypothetical Conversation on Inspiration and Discernment
IMHO this is just one of a whole line of circular beliefs that christians pound on to make themselves feel better. Having attempted to have direct contact with God through the Holy Spirit for years, I can tell you from my experience that it takes a LOT of rationalization and putting doubts away to feel like ANYTHING you have received is from God. When a christian who I had done ministry with asked me what happened, I told her - have you ever had a friend who you call over and over but who never calls you back? Eventually you just stop calling.....

Because if you are honest the differentiation between a "god" thought and a "me" thought is just founded on me asking - is this something that God would want me to do? Once you ask that question, you are now differentiating between thoughts that felt inspired but weren't, and thoughts that felt inspired that you rationalized were from god - but both "felt" the same, and it is ME who is doing the rationalizing. Because it is impossible to distinguish based on the initial feeling, there is no reason to distinguish either of the thoughts as having any source other than my brain.

This is the reason no christian will honestly answer that its just a feeling, or just an impulse, or just any one thing - because they have eliminated 100 "inspirations" for every 1 they kept. The feeling is the starting point, but they take it through so many rationalizations over time that the idea that the feeling was inspired to begin with is laughable, as it rightly should be. It's just your subconscious trying to "figure out" what god wants for you, and then suggesting it in such a way that it "feels" like its coming from outside you. You are your own god, you just don't know it.

All just my opinion from my direct and many experiences trying to be a good christian and having a rightly skeptical brain asking me what the fuck I was doing.....

Don't sell yourself short Judge, you're an incredible slouch.

Martin Luther was the "father" of two movements - The Reformation and Nazism.
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06-10-2013, 03:45 AM
RE: Hypothetical Conversation on Inspiration and Discernment
(01-10-2013 02:48 PM)PleaseJesus Wrote:  "Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever." - 1 Timothy 5:8

No wonder Peter and Paul didn't get along.
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